How will the workplace change in the future—especially given the tumultuous nature of the past year?
This past year, we’ve seen rapid changes in the way we work, the structure of our offices, and how technology impacts our workplace in general. While the office is far from dead, there’s no denying that as we return to work things will have changed drastically.
These changes are just the beginning, and help provide a clearer picture of what the workplace might look like in the future. Below, we’ve broken down eight major trends that we think will change the workplace for good.
1. Offices are Adopting a Hybrid Model
Because of the pandemic, we now know that many workers can be just as productive from home as they were in the office. And, working from home provides many employees with the flexibility and autonomy they desire—particularly those who juggle multiple responsibilities in their household, or have long commutes into the office.
Stewart Butterfield, CEO of Slack, recently revealed that in a survey on the future of work involving 4,700 knowledge workers, 72% want a hybrid remote-office model that allows them to work from home throughout the week. It’s clear that a hybrid model represents the best of both worlds for employers and employees—allowing offices to stay open while giving workers some much needed relief from the 9-5 grind. But what does the hybrid model mean for offices—and how will work change in the future as a result?
2. The Way We Organize Workspaces is Changing
In a study by McKinsey, researchers found that 20-25% of workforces in advanced economies could effectively work from home three to five days per week. That’s almost five times more remote work being conducted globally than prior to 2020.
How will offices adjust? And if workers still need offices at least a few times per week, how will empty space be utilized effectively?
If the purpose of the hybrid model is to offer increased flexibility, many offices can adjust to this by creating hot desks or co-working spaces that workers can use flexibly, perhaps in conjunction with partnering companies or organizations. The idea is to give people a space to escape their homes—but on their own terms.
Satellite offices will also become increasingly important for those workers who don’t want to commute. Rather than having one, large office in the city centre, companies will increasingly consider expanding their operation, with smaller offices spread across a wider area to accommodate commuters and those who prefer to live outside the city.
Companies will increasingly consider expanding their operation, with smaller offices spread across a wider area.
3. Activity Based Workspaces Will Become More Common
Along with a move towards decentralized offices and flex spaces, we’ll also see offices becoming more focused on activity-based space. What does that mean, exactly?
Despite all the major benefits of working from home, it has its fair share of drawbacks, too. In particular, technology has changed workplace communication, perhaps not for the better. Workers are finding that authentic connection with their colleagues is difficult from home, even with major advancements in tech. Zoom calls tend to be more exhausting than invigorating, and never-ending Slack messages have begun to blur the line between our work and home lives.
The hybrid model has an answer to these qualms. Activity-based spaces, such as meeting rooms, breakout spaces, presentation areas, and the like will become increasingly common—with workers coming into the office for specific activities rather than entire days. By making offices better equipped to serve activities that are better done in-person, workspaces can more efficiently use their spaces as hubs for human connection.
By making offices better equipped to serve activities that are better done in-person, workspaces can more efficiently use their spaces as hubs for human connection.
4. Office Culture is Being Revamped
Because human connection is so difficult online, even in a remote-hybrid scenario, HR departments and leadership will need to consider how technology is changing the workplace, and how culture can be maintained under these new conditions. As workers spread themselves across different cities and time zones, creative solutions are being implemented to keep workers engaged.
MIT recently conducted a data-driven assessment of workplace culture across top companies, using 9 key cultural values as indicators of a healthy workplace culture. Companies might consider similarly ‘measuring’ their workplace culture, in order to keep tabs on their workers and ensure their needs are met as work moves online and becomes less centralized.
5. Engagement is More Important Than Ever
Part of rethinking office culture means changing the ways we engage with one another while working remotely or utilising flex spaces. Over the past year, remote workers have experienced loneliness, a lack of human connection, and a lack of separation between their work and home lives. As a result, HR departments and executives need to think about how technology has changed workplace communication—and how to adjust to those changes.
Many companies are already re-thinking ‘traditional’ strategies for work-from-home that give their employees more meaningful opportunities to engage and help create boundaries. For instance, some companies are considering limiting synchronous communication through channels like Slack, allowing employees more time to think through problems and giving them the freedom to log off at the end of their day.
Others are re-purposing their offices as places to convene, socialize, and learn—designing workspaces to accommodate events and workshops that employees can attend either virtually or in-person. Technologies like Lane can help facilitate this kind of engagement through features such as automated booking and event management.
Many companies are already re-thinking ‘traditional’ strategies for work-from-home that give their employees more meaningful opportunities to engage and help create boundaries.
6. Companies are Investing in Automated Technologies
Now that we’ve seen first-hand just how effective technology is at optimizing our work, it’s clear that companies will be invested in leveraging technology in the future—AI in particular.
In a McKinsey global survey of over 800 executives, about two-thirds stated that they were intending to ramp up their investment in automated technologies and AI. How this technology changes workplaces in the future isn’t necessarily clear at the moment—but chances are it means more automated processes, leading to a need for workers to upskill.
Workers anxious about the impact of technology on their jobs shouldn’t be too worried, however. The same McKinsey study found that while many tasks (in particular, collecting and processing data) will become automated, for most professionals this will signal changes in their day-to-day tasks rather than redundancy.
7. Management is Responding to Shifting Priorities
Prior to the pandemic, many offices were zoned-in on providing their employees with endless perks—some more useful than others. But now more than ever, workers are finding that what they really want out of an office is a safe, comfortable place to work where they can get things done quickly and efficiently, leaving more time in their day for free, autonomous time.
As a result, management’s focus is shifting towards providing real, tangible benefits to their employees, rather than just ping pong tables and beer fridges. Not only does that mean a flexible hybrid work model, with office spaces designed as hubs for productivity and collaboration, it may expand into other benefits that improve financial inclusion and access to benefits.
8. Workspaces are Becoming More Inclusive
In the past year, we’ve witnessed a reckoning not only related to how work will change in the future, but also how society as a whole will change. Massive social upheaval seems more possible than ever, thanks to activists and grassroots organizations seeking racial and social equality.
The pandemic has given workers in particular a certain degree of power and self-determination. In front-line industries, workers are increasingly demanding higher wages now that the pandemic has demonstrated just how essential their services are. In the office, remote opportunities and flexible office spaces will allow workers to live outside of expensive urban centres, and accommodate a wider range of lifestyles and work patterns. One of the changes we can look forward to in the future is a more diverse workforce, with wider ranging points of view.